Made in the Neighborhood
Chocolate Cartel Keeps it Local
“High-quality dark chocolate” sets the shop apart
“The thing about chocolate is that there are a million things about chocolate,” laughs Troy Lowe, Chocolate Cartel’s chocolatier and general manager.
That’s why, after 18 years of making the stuff, he still loves what he does.
“The reason why I still like chocolate is it’s so complex,” he says. “I learn new things every day.”
Lowe’s passion for chocolate all started in his hometown, Taos. He was 17 and taking a French culinary class when he met master chocolatier Scott Van Rixel. Van Rixel operated a small chocolate shop in Taos, and brought Lowe on board as his apprentice.
Chocolate Cartel opened its doors in Albuquerque in 2009 when Scott’s brother Tim Van Rixel moved to New Mexico. Today, Scott has moved on to other projects, leaving Lowe in charge of all things chocolate. Tim acts as CEO of the company.
These days, the business has grown to about 10 staff members. I meet some of them, who are busy packaging chocolates and working on the crafting of chocolate bars during a behind-the scenes tour with Lowe. This is where his face really lights up, as he tells me about the chocolate-making process and shows me a machine used to make gelato, another one of the business’ sweet endeavors.
Lowe says the shop specializes in high-quality dark chocolate, but he likes to mix in a variety of unique ingredients like New Mexico chile and lavender to some bars. He also says he uses several different types of salt to bring out the flavors of his creations.
Many of these unique ingredients are sourced from local businesses. Lowe says that while he cannot source the cacao itself locally (it’s from Venezuela, and cacao isn’t known for growing well in the desert), the company works with many “New Mexico True” businesses like Rasband Dairy, Los Poblanos, Villa Myriam Coffee, The Chile Guy, Mr. Moses, K&D Pecans and Heart of the Desert Pistachios.
The company’s focus on local products helps it create quality chocolate and also builds relationships with other community businesses, says Lowe. On the other hand, there are some limitations to working so strictly with local ingredients. There are a few types of nuts that Lowe will not use in his products, simply because he cannot find them locally.
In addition to Chocolate Cartel’s focus on local sourcing, the company also gives back to the community by donating to a variety of causes. On its website, the business states it donated thousands of dollars worth of products and support in 2018 to organizations like Heading Home, Casa Esperanza, HopeWorks and more.
“It’s our duty as a member of this great community and our privilege to promote positive change,” says Tim of his business’ focus on community charity.
In addition to its shop at 315 Juan Tabo Blvd. NE, you can find Chocolate Cartel’s chocolate confections on the shelves of businesses in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Taos, Las Cruces, Cedar Crest and other cities across the state. Here in Albuquerque, you can pick up some of their treats at a variety of locations including Whole Foods and La Montanita Co-op stores. Chocolate Cartel also recently opened the Cartel Café in Old Town, which serves coffee, gelato, sorbet and, of course, plenty of chocolate.